This past Friday, December 4th, from 9 a.m. until shortly after 11 a.m., the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee held its first meeting, which was conducted in a virtual setting due to the coronavirus pandemic. (You can see a replay of that meeting here.) The meeting was important not only because it symbolically marked the beginning of the end of illegitimate president J. Bruce Harreld’s reign of administrative incompetence and malevolence, but because the substance of the meeting reaffirmed that implicit symbolism. Despite Harreld’s efforts over the past two months to insinuate himself into the search process following announcement of his retirement, which is contingent on the appointment of his successor, the members of the committee and others who spoke on Friday’s seem to have moved on. Indeed, over two-plus hours I heard only one passing reference to the rigged 2015 search that led to Harreld’s corrupt appointment, and zero mentions of J. Bruce Harreld by name.
To be sure, this does not mean Harreld has been neutralized as a threat to the committee. As detailed in the previous post about the search, the Board of Regents has still not disclosed whether Harreld will have a post-presidential role at the school and/or at the board, and that uncertainty alone may deter the best candidates from applying for the position. As noted in multiple prior posts, I also believe the simplest explanation for the board’s uncharacteristic willingness to empower the UI faculty to lead this search is that the board has already identified, and expects to appoint, an in-house candidate from the school, thus reducing the national search to shared-governance theater. All we have to do to find out is wait and see what the regents ultimately decide, but what cannot be denied at this early stage is that — apart from the conspicuous uncertainty about Harreld’s future — everyone seems to be doing what they should be doing to facilitate the recruitment of exemplary external candidates. It was just one meeting, and there is plenty of time for the wheels to come off, but after two hours of introductions and discussion the UI community and the committee itself should feel good about the prospects for a fair, open and inclusive search.
The Search Timeline
While watching the meeting in real time I found myself intrigued by various issues and developments which are detailed in this post. In reading local reporting about the meeting later that day I realized that what seemed to me like just another positive development at the time was in fact the appropriate headline coming out of the meeting. From Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen: University of Iowa presidential search committee hopes to name the university’s next president by April 30; Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan: University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee introduces search timeline, selection of UI president set for April 30; and Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: University of Iowa on ‘aggressive timeline’ for new president by April 30.
It is accurate to say that the committee’s draft timeline — which includes a tentative board meeting on April 30th, during which the appointment of the next UI president would be made — is relatively aggressive as academic searches go. That’s also particularly true relative to comments J. Bruce Harreld has made about the expected duration of the search, which, for self-serving reasons, he has pegged at a minimum of a year or a year and a half. That said, however, while the timeline for the search is more aggressive than it is leisurely, it is not overly aggressive, and there are several reasons why adhering to that schedule will prove beneficial to the overall process of recruiting and appointing Harreld’s successor.
What the draft timeline proposes is that advertising for the position will go live in mid-January. That will then give the committee, search firm and board three and a half months to recruit, winnow and nominate finalists for the position, followed by the final regent vote on April 30th. For context, what members of the current committee and the public should understand is that during the rigged 2015 search, the position description was approved in mid-May, and advertising began shortly thereafter. Since Harreld was appointed on September 3rd, that essentially gave that committee the same three-and-a-half-month span — from mid-May through the end of August — that the current timeline anticipates.
Input, Feedback and Listening Sessions
During Friday’s meeting two main concerns were voiced about the moderately aggressive timeline for the search. The first concern was that convergence with the end of the fall term would not allow enough time to solicit input and feedback from the greater UI community, which could then be used to inform the position description and advertising. While it is certainly important to provide opportunities for members of the university, the extended UI community, and the public to communicate their hopes and concerns, it is also important to consider all that in the overall context of the specific process that is now taking place.
During the rigged 2015 presidential search at UI, the committee and particularly the corrupt chair, Jean Robillard, took great pains to repeatedly solicit input and feedback, and to conduct multiple listening sessions across the UI campus, while also perpetually boasting about same. Then again there also seemed to be a valid reason for providing so many opportunities, which is that the board-centric search committee ignored entire constituencies, who thus had no direct representation. If those constituencies did not avail themselves of the opportunity to participate in listening sessions, or to provide input and feedback via the committee’s website, then those constituencies had no voice at all.
Even if the 2015 search had not been corrupted from the beginning, the need for greater emphasis on listening sessions, and for providing adequate time for input and feedback was justified, precisely because the board stacked the committee membership so heavily in the board’s favor. As we subsequently learned, however, when J. Bruce Harreld was imposed on the stunned UI community, those listening sessions also buttressed the narrative the board then used to cover its ass when the campus balked at the board’s decision. What seemed to be genuine outreach in early 2015 was, eventually, revealed to be nothing more than another cynical example of regent theater, engineered for plausible deniability. (We gave you multiple opportunities to contribute, so if hiring Jerre Stead’s private-sector buddy was a concern you should have spoken up.)
By contrast, the current search committee is much more broadly representative of the UI community as a whole, and as such will be much more likely to provide direct representation whether outside members of specific constituencies engage with the process or not. Not only might that inevitably decrease the amount of input and feedback — because outside constituents will know they have a seat at the table — but representation is also more valuable precisely because it persists. Unlike input and feedback, which may be aggregated, prove overwhelming in volume, or be easily ignored, having people on the committee who embody the points of view you care about means you don’t have to comment in order to have confidence that your concerns will be addressed.
Although the current search is just getting underway, you can already submit your thoughts to the committee here, and that web form will remain active throughout the process. While the recently-released schedule for the formal listening sessions may not be ideal for everyone, both because of the crush of business at the end of the semester and the ongoing pandemic, I don’t believe the moderately aggressive timeline will prevent anyone from communicating sentiments about the search. Moreover, between the 2015 search and the current search, it should be self-evident that the co-chairs of the current search will make sure constituents are heard, whereas the former chair was merely going through the motions, on his way to betraying the UI community, of which he was himself a longstanding member. (The first listening session took place yesterday, as reported by Brian Grace at the Daily Iowan: University of Iowa student leaders offer feedback while university searches for new president. Two more sessions took place early today, and seven more sessions are scheduled at various times over the next ten days.)
As for the effectiveness of the current committee, it is also important to recognize that there is a difference between the formality of the search process and the reality of that process. While listening to and empowering input and feedback is important because it builds trust, most of the information that will go into the position description is already known, whether from similar documentation in the 2015 presidential search, or from boilerplate used in other UI searches. Specific questions dealing with requirements for the position do need to be answered, and could prove contentious, but the vast majority of the issues that need to be resolved have already been decided, if they are not inherently determined by the makeup of the university itself.
The Candidate Pool
The second concern about the committee’s moderately aggressive timeline was that it might not allow enough time between advertising the position and nominating finalists to the board. As already noted, however, the current timeline allows roughly the same amount of time for active recruitment as the 2015 search, although we probably don’t want to compare the current search to the corrupt 2015 process. (If you already know who you’re going to hire before a search even kicks off, then you don’t need to set aside time for input and feedback to get the desired result.)
Just as the comment process is already underway even before the formal listening sessions begin, so too is the recruitment process. While the committee is obligated to produce a position description and to formally advertise the opening, the reality — whether they would ever apply for the job or not — is that one hundred percent of the academic administrators who are qualified to lead UI already know the job is open, and have known since early October, when Harreld’s tentative retirement was announced. Likewise, given the exceedingly low bar set by the board’s appointment of Harreld — who not only had no prior experience in academic administration or the public sector, but had never been the CEO of anything — it is a certainty that Harreld’s impending departure has already attracted plenty of attention from non-traditional and even oddball candidates, who would be positively thrilled to pocket four million dollars or more over five years.
As to potential academic successors, while there are thousands of public and private non-profit colleges and universities in the U.S., the number of schools which are the functional equivalent of the University of Iowa is exceedingly small, meaning the number of people who are currently qualified to lead UI is also exceedingly small. For example, among all colleges and universities there are only “131 institutions that are classified as ‘R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity‘”, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education“, and Iowa is one of less than 100 public universities that meet that criterion.
Likewise, Iowa is one of only 65 North American universities (63 U.S., 2 Canada) that belongs to the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), all of which are R1 schools. Of the 63 U.S. members, only 38 are public institutions, only 28 have a medical college on campus, and far fewer also include a major hospital, let alone one which is not only a Level 1 Trauma Center, but the only hospital of that designation in their state.
All of which is to say not only that the University of Iowa is quite rare in the world of higher education, but most if not all of the equally rare academic administrators who will eventually be put forward as finalists — who will have demonstrated presidential leadership at a similar institution, or have prepared to make that leap by serving as a provost or chancellor at an equivalent public school — already know about the availability of the position. In fact, I would wager that some of those rare candidates are already actively considering the UI presidency, if not making oblique inquiries. (To underscore how prestigious the Iowa presidency would be to almost any academic administrator outside of the snob schools in the Ivy League, note that the president of Arizona State, Mike Crow — who is the darling of the entrepreneurial higher-ed jet set that jammed J. Bruce Harreld into office at UI — pert near gave himself a stroke trying to elevate ASU to AAU status over the past decade. In the end he fell short, but not for lack of effort, because presiding over an R1/AAU university is second only in academic prestige to heading up an Ivy League school.)
Candidate Recruitment and the Pandemic
As noted in passing above and detailed in multiple prior posts, J. Bruce Harreld has repeatedly stated that he decided to resign in October not because he’s a quitter, but because he believes the search to find his replacement could take a year or more, and he wanted to get that protracted process going sooner rather than later. From Harreld’s 10/01/20 interview with the Daily Iowan:
The DI: Yeah. So, you talked about how wanting to have a longer period of time for the Board of Regents and the UI to search for a president, was, could you take us through, I guess your, your thinking this summer? Is this connected to, this announcement, connected to [anything]? I think a lot of people will think that this announcement is connected to the coronavirus or to racial justice protests. Can you just take us through your thinking on this?
Harreld: Yeah, I think the only, only element the CV-19 plays on it may have lengthened the time. I got advice from a lot of people that the typical search time for a presidential search, people advised me, is nine to 18 months. That seems to bear up, everyone’s around that one-year period. And then when I asked the question as to under this environment, do you think it’s shortened or lengthened? And everyone said oh it’s going to be lengthened, and they had different reasons for that so that’s what was the key piece to me because now we’re running into the end of my commitment. And I think it’s, therefore, time to think about it sooner rather than later. Is that the social justice and unrest on campus? No, not at all. Not right.
As regular readers know, J. Bruce Harreld routinely utters statements which are not true in order to justify or avoid responsibility for his decision making. Case in point, we recently looked at Harreld’s false claim that no one helped him during his first year as Iowa’s president, leaving him to overcome that pervasive and insulting neglect through the sheer force of his heroic will. Here, in the quote above, we have a similar example of Harreld’s propensity for prevarication, and if you don’t see it yet you will by the time you finish reading the next two paragraphs.
The coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States on both coasts in February, then pushed inland through March. While it is now mid-December, Harreld responded to the question in the quote above at the beginning of October, meaning the pandemic had been active in the U.S. for eight months at most, and seven in a majority of states. But if the pandemic was only seven or eight months old when Harreld patiently explained how the pandemic would make normal 9-to-18-month presidential searches even longer, then what sample size could he or anyone else have consulted in making such a prediction? People could certainly speculate about the impact of the pandemic, and assume it would make searches longer, but as J. Bruce Hypocrite always says it’s important to look at the data, and on the question of presidential searches during the coronavirus pandemic there is little or no data to check. Even most of the searches which were underway prior to the pandemic would still be inside Harreld’s 9-to-18-month window for a normal search, so how could anyone conclude that the pandemic was already making searches longer?
As also noted above, there is a vast difference between looking for a new president if you’re a small school like, say, St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas — which incidentally just snagged the former UI provost in that role, in short order, despite the raging pandemic — versus hiring someone to run the $4B University of Iowa. Not only is the sample size of presidential hires at R1/AAU universities exceedingly small for any period of time, but during the relatively short period that the pandemic has been a factor it is likely there are zero data points in that set. And yet in his response Harreld would have you believe that because of the pandemic, high-level academic job searches will now take even longer than 9 to 18 months, which is itself a dubiously broad range.
As an alternate hypothesis, I would suggest that not only will we see an overall increase in presidential higher-ed resignations over the next year or so, we will also see a flight to quality among those academic administrators who decide to remain in the industry. (Two weeks before Harreld announced his indefinite retirement, the long-time president of Indiana University, Michael McRobbie, announced that he would be stepping down in June of 2021.) Much as investors seek out large-cap stocks or government-backed securities during an economic downturn, academic administrators are going to look for post-pandemic jobs which come with deep pockets, and, ideally, a large campus medical center that can serve as both a buffer against future outbreaks, and as a facilitator of vaccinations. Which is to say that I think the Iowa presidency may be one of the most in-demand openings in higher education for the foreseeable future, and I expect veteran academic administrators to give the position serious consideration precisely because of its relative financial security and healthcare resources.
External Timeline Factors
The decision to conclude the current search on April 30th may seem arbitrary, but that’s largely because important process dynamics are distracting us from the larger context. As was repeatedly noted by multiple individuals during Friday’s meeting, the objective of the search is to recruit and nominate the best possible slate of finalists, and if that means pushing past the April 30th deadline the schedule will certainly be extended. In terms of choosing that target date versus any other, however, there are at least three relevant outside factors at work, all of which are consequential.
In 2015, J. Bruce Harreld was fraudulently appointed in early September, then took office after a two-month transition at the beginning of November. If the next UI president is selected on April 30th, then a two-month transition would bring us to June 30th, which is the end of both the academic year at the Board of Regents and the fiscal year in Iowa. Having the new president take over on July 1st would not only be optimal regarding those contemporaneous calendars, it would give the new president the bulk of two quiet summer months — versus two months in the heart of the fall term, which Harreld spent hiding out from the press while apparently reaching out to no one — to get acclimated and acquainted with the campus and greater UI community.
Also on the calendar this coming spring are expiring six-year terms for regent President Mike Richards and President Pro Tem Patty Cownie, on — wait for it — April 30th, 2021. Assuming their terms run through that date, and neither Richards nor Cownie is reappointed, that would make appointing the next president of the University of Iowa their final act as regents, before two new wildcard regents are seated. Given the consequential and potentially disruptive nature of such appointments for years to come, I can image that Richards in particular would prefer to see the new UI president installed before he rides off into the sunset himself.
While those calendar concerns would be relevant in any historical context, the pandemic makes a mid-summer presidential transition particularly preferable. Having continuity of leadership during the large-scale rollout of vaccinations over the first half of 2021 is important not only relative to the campus, but because University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will undoubtedly play an important role in facilitating that program. If all goes well between now and the end of June, it is entirely possible that the next UI president could take office on July 1st ahead of a relatively normal fall term. (There will be lingering outbreaks, and proof of vaccinations and ongoing surveillance programs will be important on the UI campus, but even J. Bruce Harreld should be able to delegate the necessary decision making before he hits the bricks.)
The Timeline and AGB Search
During Friday’s meeting, and as quoted in press reports later that day, representatives from AGB Search — the executive firm hired by the regents to facilitate recruitment of Harreld’s successor — agreed that the committee’s moderately aggressive timeline was achievable. That is obviously reassuring if the board is genuinely committed to an open and fair search, but it should also be noted that the committee’s draft timeline is positively generous if a majority of the board has already decided to hire an in-house candidate, irrespective of external applicants. (In that case the entire search would be nothing more than regent theater, and there would be no benefit, and conceivably greater risk, in extending the committee’s run.)
While it would have been a bit awkward if AGB had said the UI timeline was too aggressive, meaning their agreement was to be expected, there are several positive aspects of AGB’s participation worth noting. First, not only did AGB facilitate the 2016 search at Northern Iowa and the 2017 search at Iowa State, both of which were deemed successful and corruption-free — meaning AGB will have placed presidents at all three of the regent universities after the UI search — but the same representatives who worked those prior searches are working the Iowa search. After the 2015 disaster, which was facilitated by a different firm, having Janice Fitzgerald and James McCormick handle the current search is not only reassuring because of their prior experience with the regents enterprise, but precisely because that experience should help UI stick to its moderately aggressive timeline.
While each of Iowa’s regent universities is unique, and UI is by far the most complex, the familiarity Fitzgerald and McCormick have with the board means they don’t have to start their own process from scratch. In terms of competence and professionalism there has also never been a hint of concern about AGB’s role in the UNI or ISU searches. Although the regents did hire an in-house lifer as the next president at Iowa State, thus producing a road map for doing the same thing at Iowa, that wasn’t the case at UNI, where an outside candidate was hired over an internal candidate.
One oddity about the current UI search is that the regents got a sweet deal on the pricing, and it’s not clear why that happened. Four years ago, in 2016, AGB charged a fixed fee of $85K for the UNI search, at a much smaller school. One year later, in 2017, AGB charged a fixed fee of $110K for the ISU search, which seemed to make sense because Iowa State is significantly larger and more complex. (In both instances, as with the Iowa search, those fees were in addition to expenses, which effectively doubled the total cost.)
Despite that previously established pricing, in late 2020 AGB agreed to a fixed fee for the UI search of only $90K, plus expenses. Not only is that incongruous given that UI’s $4B budget is twice that of ISU, but for the privilege of running the disastrous 2015 search the previous search firm charged the regents a whopping flat fee of $200K — which the board happily paid, without providing any justification for doing so. (Note that the 2015 flat fee was also in addition to expenses, which eventually pushed the total cost of that search over $330K.)
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, way back on 02/17/15:
The Board of Regents on Tuesday didn’t clarify why it’s planning to pay Parker [Executive Search] twice as much for the UI search as it did for the ISU and UNI searches.
James P. Ferrare, managing principal for AGB Search in Washington D.C., said the industry standard for search firms is to charge either a flat fee or a retainer valued at one-third of the hired employee’s first-year salary. Flat fees typically stay under $100,000, Ferrare said, and it’s normal for firms to charge expenses on top of that.
Ferarre said $200,000 “does seem to be higher” than standard fees, but he said that might be indicative of what they plan to pay a new president or that the university involves a large health care system.
Relative to the 2015 UI search, the current Iowa search is more than half off — though following that earlier search, there was reason to believe that part of what the regents paid for five years ago was the effective privatization of that corrupt process, so official records would be shielded from requests for information by the public or press. Even relative to AGB’s 2017 ISU search, however, UI is getting a $20K discount, and that doesn’t take inflation into account. The only plausible explanation I have come up with is that the pandemic has interrupted the normal pace of searches in higher-ed, and that in turn has driven down the price as search firms — like many other businesses — focus on survival. If that is the case, however, that also lends credence to the idea that there isn’t a lot of relevant search data for Harreld to lean on in estimating the duration of the current presidential search.
In any event, I believe AGB reps Fitzgerald and McCormick are a plus for the UI search committee, and that their experience with the board will accelerate the pace of the search without compromising results. The pool of top-tier candidates will be limited in any circumstance, and it certainly doesn’t help that Harreld has committed to haunting the search, but even taking the pandemic into account there is nothing about the committee’s moderately aggressive timeline that will preclude an excellent external hire. It might not happen for a host or reasons, including duplicity by the board, but the timeline won’t be one of those reasons.
The Ex Officio Members
At the 22:26 mark of Friday’s meeting, after the twenty-one committee members introduced themselves, co-chair Sandy Daack-Hirsch introduced the ex-officio members who will provide administrative support, and thus be privy to all conversations and deliberations whether in open or closed session. As to the substantive difference between regular and ex officio members, by convention the distinction at the board seems to be that ex officio members do not vote on committee matters. (That is not necessarily true at other academic institutions, and is not inherent in the term itself.)
While watching the live ex officio introductions, however, it wasn’t entirely clear who was and was not an ex-officio member, and for a moment I became concerned that UI Senior Advisor Laura McCleran had been appointed in that capacity. As regular readers know, during the corrupt 2015 search the interim UI Chief of Staff, Peter Matthes — who was later named as Harreld’s other senior advisor — was appointed as an ex officio member of that committee. Because of that standing, Matthes was then able to secretly participate in and facilitate the preferential treatment that J. Bruce Harreld repeatedly received during that search, often at the explicit direction of search chair and, later, interim UI president Jean Robillard. Although McCleran has never done anything other than her job as far as I know, having one of Harreld’s executive spies serving on the committee would have been untenable, but as I determined shortly after the meeting concluded that will not be the case.
As listed at the bottom of the ‘process’ page on the search committee website, the three ex-officio members of the current search are regent President Mike Richards, regent CEO/Executive Director Mark Braun, and regent Chief Academic Officer Rachel Boon. The latter two were not a surprise, because although the personnel has changed over time, during both the 2016 UNI search and the 2017 ISU search the CEO/Executive Director and Chief Academic Officer were ex officio members of those committees as well. What is clearly different with the current UI search is that President Richards added himself as a third ex officio member from the board, yet as ominous as that might seem I don’t necessarily see it as a problem. (Complicating the question of who is and is not ex officio, and what that does or doesn’t mean, I believe Board Counsel Aimee Claeys will also participate in all meetings precisely to make sure no one actually breaks the law — which, to her credit, she was apparently able to do during the riotously corrupt 2015 UI search, so here’s hoping she can extend that streak.)
As noted above, Richards’ term expires the same day that the board is scheduled to appoint the next president of the University of Iowa. In that context alone, Richards clearly has a vested interest in making sure the process goes smoothly, and as president of the board he can make sure everyone has the resources they need to do the job they were appointed to do on the committee. Having said that, I don’t think Richards is solely motivated by bureaucratic objectives.
The reason I say that is that a bit later during Friday’s meeting, (see the 30:04 mark), while Richards was reading preparatory remarks prior to reading the official charge to the committee — which was itself otherwise routine — he uttered the following sentence with a hint of gusto that I have not heard before [31:26]:
The search committee and the board will abide by the best-practices document that the board and the University of Iowa faculty worked on and agreed to for the University of Iowa presidential searches.
I don’t know what Richards thinks about the 2018 agreement that finally got Iowa off the AAUP sanction list after two years, or even how he feels about higher-ed faculty in general. What Richards does seem to care about, however, is avoiding the kind of train wreck that the board itself caused by corrupting the 2015 presidential search, and on that point I think everyone is in agreement. Whether he believes J. Bruce Harreld has been a good president or a disaster, rigging that search damaged the national reputation of the school, and that was not in the state’s long-term interest.
Resolving An Administrative Mystery
At the 19:38 mark of Friday’s meeting, as co-chair Daack-Hirsch was alphabetically working her way through member introductions, she called on Liz Tovar. Here is how Tovar began:
Hi, I’m Liz Tovar, interim Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I also have a role over in the department of athletics as Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Academic Services.
If you showed that quote to a thousand people on the UI campus it wouldn’t mean anything, but here at Ditchwalk those two sentences speak to a mystery that has lingered since Tovar became the interim AVP-DEI in early August. At that time there was an ongoing search for a permanent AVP-DEI, but as noted in recent posts Harreld blew that search up when he announced his tentative retirement. As a result, where Tovar had previously described her stint as a “temporary move” from athletics to the academic side of campus, by mid-October that interim appointment was being cast as something longer-term, yet still interim, by yet another interim.
From the Iowa Now website on 10/15/20:
Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel says the university has a strong interim AVP for DEI in place, and [the] campus will move forward under Liz Tovar’s leadership.
“In the short time since Dr. Tovar was appointed interim associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, she has already made a significant impact by listening to and engaging with many parts of campus,” says Kregel. “I am grateful for her service and leadership, and look forward to her continuing in this role.”
The obvious question was whether Tovar would work on DEI full-time, or split time between academics and athletics, and that question had serious overtones because Harreld had been treating the DEI role like a rented mule for years. Having just blown up the AVP-DEI search himself, it would be a bad look if he once again had another woman of color working two jobs, while DEI was once again receiving only part-time attention. For all those reasons, it was not a surprise that the university refused to provide a straight answer even when asked.
From Sarah Watson and Rachel Schilke at the Daily Iowan on 10/15/20:
When asked whether the athletics department had filled the role of Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Academic Services, where Tovar had been previously, [Director of Media Relations Anne] Bassett wrote “Tovar is continuing to engage with the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics as part of her new responsibilities.”
It is bad enough that Harreld put off appointing an interim until he was forced to do so, while also putting off the search for a permanent AVP-DEI as long as possible. But after he blew up that search himself, which locked Tovar into her interim role on a long-term basis, that means the DEI job was not only been pawned off on yet another interim, but once again the job is being done part-time by someone who still has other campus responsibilities. And to be absolutely explicit, that is not Liz Tovar’s fault, that is J. Bruce Harreld’s fault.
The only thing that makes it worse is that the university couldn’t tell the truth when asked, which is yet another reminder of why Harreld has to go. If your administration can’t tell the truth about who is doing what job at a public research university, then you have failed as a president. (As ever, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller put the pieces together at the time, but I haven’t been able to track down her sourcing.)
As noted in a blog update on 10/16/20:
You would think this was not something white administrators needed to hear in 2020, but persons of color do not exist to obscure or compensate for your own incompetence. Whether you’re a lame-duck university president or an interim provost hand-picked by that same duck, you don’t get to just grab the nearest qualified person of color to plug administrative leaks. For the past five years the University of Iowa’s treatment of administrators of color — including particularly Melissa Shivers, who was better at the two jobs she was asked to do than Bro Bruce has ever been at anything — has been disgusting. So when it comes to Liz Tovar now, the question is not what she can do for UI, but how the school can support her so she can be successful for the entire UI community, and not just solve another short-term public relations problem for two white administrators. (And that includes making sure that Harreld, Kregel and AD Gary Barta do not have Liz Tovar herself doing two jobs now for the price of one.)
J. Bruce Harreld is not only a failed university president who relies on other people to clean up his administrative messes, but he has been persistently hand consistently hostile to diversity, equity and inclusion. Liz Tovar is now the sixth person of color in four years who has been positioned to protect Harreld’s sorry hide, and we know that’s what he’s doing because the university can’t tell the truth about what she’s doing. The board’s vote on April 30th cannot come too soon.
A Good Start
If the thoroughly corrupted 2015 presidential search taught us anything, it is that bureaucratic authority and administrative routine can make any abuse of power look like business as usual. It was only after Harreld’s shocking appointment by the board, which contravened not only the academic concept of shared governance, but basic obligations of stewardship, that the conspiracy to appoint Harreld began to unravel. During the entirely of that search — which was reported on by the press from late February until the end of August, when Harreld’s non-traditional candidacy was finally disclosed to the UI community, followed the next day by his gonzo on-campus visit — there were no signs that anything was amiss. The search had already been rigged to give Harreld the job, but until he was actually appointed, and inconsistencies became apparent in retrospect thanks to local reporting, everything looked as it should.
Given that precedent, the bad news about the current search is that we will not know if this committee was free from corruption until after it concludes its responsibilities and the next president is selected. The good news, based on one two-hour meeting so far, is that I didn’t see any incipient signs of dysfunction. The co-chairs were able to keep the meeting on track and on time, the members were able to raise points when they wanted to comment, and although the virtual setting was less than ideal, it didn’t preclude taking care of business and having a productive dialogue.
As a specific example, after Board Counsel Aimee Claeys finished briefing the committee on the confidentiality agreement that the members were to sign, there was a somewhat technical conversation about some of the language in that agreement. That conversation was initiated by committee member Joseph Yockey, who is both the current president of the UI Faculty Senate and an attorney, and as a result of that sidebar, and related questions and concerns from other members, the committee decided to hold off signing and returning the confidentiality agreement until the language and the practicalities of implementing that language could be ironed out. (You can see the confidentiality agreement here, the pro forma confidentiality resolution here, and applicable info on Iowa’s Open Meetings law here.)
Nothing about that conversation was particularly noteworthy in itself, yet it was reassuring to see this newly formed committee work a problem and come to what seemed to be the right conclusions at each step. The confidentiality agreement is indeed important, both because of how it insulates the committee from outside influence, and how it protects applicants who may put their current employment at risk by expressing interest in the Iowa presidency. Having said that, while the committee does have an obligation to maintain confidentiality, there are multiple ways the committee process can still be exploited and corrupted, and as we learned in 2015 that includes by people other than the voting members.
Confidentiality and the Committee Process
From the outside looking in, an open presidential search in higher-ed — which is the type the University of Iowa is conducting — seems pretty straightforward. A committee is established, people are invited to nominate individuals to that committee, then at some agreed-upon date the resulting applications are winnowed to a small slate, which is then sent to the governing board for the final choice. (In a closed search a single finalist is chosen, which is as ridiculous as it sounds.)
The reality of the search process is considerably messier, and in the gray areas there is ample opportunity for corruption. Not only can anyone put forward a nominee — including committee members, all members of the Board of Regents, and the professionals in the board office — but the members of the committee do not merely receive nominations. As part of their duty the committee members also actively recruit candidates, including approaching them, either directly or through the search firm, answering questions, and engaging in what may be protracted conversations about the position.
Unfortunately, because the Board of Regents insists on adding regents to their search committees, that creates an inherent imbalance among the members before the search even begins. If you’re a prospective candidate and you’re being recruited by a rank-and-file member of the committee, that’s nice. If you’re being recruited by one or more regents, however — who each have one of the nine deciding votes at the end of the process — that’s an entirely different conversation, which could conceivably continue or even grow among other regents who aren’t even on the search committee. In fact, given a real shyster candidate and a corrupt regent or two, or maybe even three, that imbalance in itself could lead to serious abuses of power…but more about that in a moment.
(For the record, I don’t believe either of the two voting regents on the current committee would do anything wrong, but they don’t stop being regents while they’re serving on the committee. As for President Richards, I’m not too worried about him either, but the same problem holds. If a prospective candidate wants to talk to Richards, or Richards wants to nominate a prospective candidate, can he do that himself, or does he have to pass that off to someone on the committee? And in the latter case, who is he more likely to put a prospective candidate in touch with — one of the random members of the committee that he doesn’t know, or one of the other two regents he has worked with for years?)
Even if we assume that all twenty-four committee members sign the final confidentiality agreement, and dutifully refrain from talking about candidates with anyone outside of the committee, who actually qualifies as a candidate? Just because someone nominates an individual that doesn’t mean that individual is a candidate. Likewise, if an individual inquires about the open presidency to do their own due diligence, that doesn’t make them a candidate. Unfortunately, the question of whether someone is or is not a candidate — and the temptation to differentiate between unofficial or prospective candidates on one hand, and official or declared candidates on the other is a tell — is a lot more complicated than it looks.
The simplest solution seems to be that committee members should not talk about any individual outside of the committee for any reason, whether they are a prospective or declared candidate, unless that person authorizes a disclosure. And the idea that candidates have that right of self-determination does seem to be a core assumption in the current committee’s confidentiality agreement:
1. I acknowledge that candidate identities and application information are highly confidential. I will not disclose candidate identities or information to individuals outside the search process, except as expressly authorized by a candidate.
And likewise in the confidentlaity resolution:
The Search Committee believes that otherwise qualified candidates may choose not to apply for the position if their names and application materials are made available for public examination without the candidate’s permission.
Whether an individual is a prospective or declared candidate is still germane, however, because that also has to do with whether an individual’s name is being tracked by the full committee through the search firm. Not only can an individual count on the committee as a whole to maintain their confidentiality, but it’s not clear whether an individual can ask one or more committee members to refrain from mentioning their name to any other members, until they decide to officially apply for the position. Not only is that yet another potential loophole which would allow unethical members of the committee — including particularly regent members — to engage in what are de facto protracted negotiations about the job before an individual ever submitted any paperwork, but that’s not the worst of it.
In the most-recent presidential searches at UI, ISU and UNI there was a deadline date for submitting applications, at which point any individual who did so became a declared candidate known to the entire committee. In reality, however, that deadline date was meaningless. (The apparent justification for having a non-deadline deadline is that the committee wouldn’t want to lose a great candidate just because their paperwork was a couple days late, so despite the deadline the position is officially held open. On the other hand, if you can’t get your paperwork in by the committee deadline it might be fair to conclude that you were either lazy or up to something, and in either case it would be self-evident that you felt comfortable exempting yourself from rules that everyone else was following.)
From the draft timeline that was revealed last Friday, we can already see that the current search will be held open as well, for those last-minute, super-special candidates who somehow couldn’t get their act together like everyone else:
Mar. 15 Deadline for applications (best consideration)
The phrase “best consideration” purportedly means that if you turn your application in by the deadline you will be deemed preferable to someone who submits their application after that date. The problem with that assertion is that it runs counter to the justification for leaving the process open in the first place. If you submit your paperwork by the deadline, and a superior candidate officially applies only one day before the committee votes on the semifinalists — which in the current draft timeline would be six days after the official non-deadline deadline for submitting applications — then you’re not getting that job despite the promise of best consideration. You’re just a sucker for turning your paperwork in on time.
Recruitment and the Due-Diligence Scam
While the current committee seems sincere in its desire to commit to and maintain confidentiality during the search, it is important to note that the most egregious violation of confidentiality that took place during the corrupt 2015 presidential search was facilitated by the president of the regents, who was a member of that committee. Although the current board president, Mike Richards, is serving in an ex officio capacity, he’s still wearing the same two hats that Rastetter wore in 2015. As such, and because there are two regents who are voting members of the current committee (there were three total in 2015, including Rastetter), it is important that the current co-chairs close the confidentiality loopholes that were exploited, in concert, by board President Bruce Rastetter and candidate J. Bruce Harreld.
Several weeks after Harreld’s illegitimate appointment, it was reported that Rastetter had secretly arranged a de facto job interview for Harreld with four other regents, two of whom were not on the search committee at the time. Not only did those regent meetings take place at Rastetter’s private place of business in Ames, instead of at the regent offices, but the meetings were slightly staggered to make sure they did not trigger a violation of Iowa’s Open Meetings law. (Without that staggering, a quorum of the nine-member board would have been present in the same place at the same time.)
As to how those meetings came about in the context of the 2015 search, here is Rastetter’s explanation from an official board statement on 09/24/15 — which was either never added to the Iowa Board of Regents website, or was subsequently scrubbed:
One of the search committee’s primary charges was to recruit candidates for the position of president at the University of Iowa. Parker Executive Search reiterated this charge throughout the process to all members of the committee. Parker wanted the search committee to talk to as many people as possible to find qualified candidates, which would get us the best possible pool to choose from. All of us on the search committee took that seriously and recruited candidates. On July 30, 2015 several meetings were held in Ames with Bruce Harreld as part of the recruiting process for the position of president at the University of Iowa. One was between Mr. Harreld and Regents Katie Mulholland and Milt Dakovich, while a second meeting was between Mr. Harreld and Regents Mary Andringa and Larry McKibben. Regent Mulholland is President Pro Tem, Regent Dakovich is chair of the Property and Facilities Committee, Regent McKibben is chair of the TIER Committee, and Regent Andringa is chair of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Committee. In addition, that evening, Mr. Harreld had dinner with Iowa State University president Steven Leath. I did not attend any of these gatherings but did help coordinate. Mr. Harreld was not reimbursed for any expenses.
The purpose of these meetings, which were at Mr. Harreld’s request, was for him to become more informed about the expectations the Board had for the next president of the University of Iowa.
I considered Mr. Harreld’s requests for these additional meetings on July 30 not only appropriate, but due diligence on his part. He wanted to gather as many facts as he could about the position. I appreciate the fact that he was interested enough to want to do his research on the job, and took his time gathering facts
As for Harreld, who hid from the local and national press for two months after being appointed — thus giving him time to conform his own explanation to that of Rastetter — only on the weekend before he took office did he feel obligated to answer questions about the preferential treatment he received during the search . From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller on 11/01/15:
[Harreld] said he wanted to meet with at least four regents, visit with members of the UI administration and speak with Iowa State University President Steven Leath, who he had heard was leading a successful change effort on the Ames campus.
“I actually put those in front of the search committee and said, ‘Here’s what I’d like to do,’” Harreld said. “They didn’t say yes to all those. They said yes to some of that.”
Harreld met with four regents and Leath on June 30 — the day before the application deadline.
So the tidy and completely innocent explanation is that prospective candidate J. Bruce Harreld spontaneously decided he had the right to demand meetings with four regents other than Rastetter, including two regents who were not on the committee, and as a selfless and dedicated committee member Rastetter felt obligated to provide those meetings — which, by statute, he alone could legally compel. In the quote above, however, where Harreld says, “I actually put those in front of the search committee”, that’s actually a lie, and Harreld knew it was a lie when he said it. And we know he knew because in the last line we learn that those meetings took place the day before the application deadline, and Harreld had not yet submitted his official paperwork. Meaning outside of regents Rastetter, Mulholland and Dakovich, and search chair Robillard, and Jerre Stead, and ex officio member Peter Matthes, no one else on the search committee — including the executive search firm — knew that Harreld was considering applying for the job, even though he was already getting face time with a majority of the nine members of the board. (Because the paperwork from the 2015 search was subsequently shielded by the search firm, to this day we still don’t know when Harreld submitted his formal application.)
All of which is to say that while the current committee is ironing out the confidentiality agreement that its members will sign and honor, it might also be a good idea to nail down what will happen if candidates try to circumvent the committee process by appealing directly to members of the board, and whether members of the committee — who may be board members themselves, whether ex officio or not — are allowed to facilitate meetings or communications with members of the Board of Regents. Because as it turns out, the regents never officially repudiated the tactics that Bruce Rastetter used in 2015, which ensured that J. Bruce Harreld had five regent votes in favor of his candidacy before Harreld’s candidacy was even officially declared.
Admittedly, looking back at the administrative perversions that took place in 2015 is a bit of a downer, but there is one fortuitous benefit. As it turns out, the official statement that Rastetter put out on 09/24/15 was issued by Senior Communications Director Josh Lehman, who is not only still the official spokesperson for the board, but Lehman spoke at length during Friday’s committee meeting. So if you’re a member of the committee yourself, and you have questions or concerns about how to avoid the kind of corruption that was running rampant during the 2015 UI search, I would encourage you to touch base with Lehman, who is only there to serve.
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